Audrey Niffenegger – Edinburgh Book Festival 2011

Apologies for the long break I’ve taken from blogging. As you know, I recently moved out of my flat. The following day I started work at Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I’ve spent most of my time ever since. Today is the first day I’ve had off in two weeks so I’m setting up some posts about the wonderful events I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on. Look out for these coming over the next few days.

First up, my notes on Audrey Niffenegger’s event.

Audrey Niffenegger - photo credit Edinburgh International Book FestivalShe was so lovely and down-to-earth. I’ve noticed that really mega authors can sometimes come across as either super aware of their own brilliance or else embarrassingly self-deprecating. Niffenegger was neither. She was funny and charming and spoke admiringly of the artists and writers who have influenced her work. Both her novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, share a fantastical element, and she explained that she is attracted towards the weird and wonderful in the everyday. “If you sit down and pay attention to anyone, they will be out of the ordinary. Artists direct your gaze towards the amazing thing that would otherwise appear normal.”

Some of her characters, for example, the obsessive compulsive Martin in Symmetry, have been inspired by people she has dated. She met this particular ex recently and joked that he had either not read the book or not recognised himself, since he didn’t comment on the similarity.

One audience member asked if she ever felt that she had to rein in her imagination when she was writing. Niffenegger replied that on the contrary, she wished she could let it go more. Niffenegger is a Guest Selector for this year’s Book Festival, which means she chose three authors to appear in the programme. The writers she picked – Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link and Chris Adrian – are ones she admires precisely because they are so free and unrestricted with their imagination.

Another audience member asked her to comment on her model of time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife. It is non-traditional compared with other works of fiction in that Henry can’t influence future events or change history. Niffenegger said that she researched by reading some “light physics” and decided that she wanted “a block universe where everything co-exists.” The way she sees it, there are two types of time travel: humorous Back to the Future style, where the character’s motivation is that he can interfere with past and future events, and the tragic style of her own novel where the drama comes from the fact that the character can’t control his own destiny. The idea that Henry knows what will happen but can’t change it is what appealed to her about the concept.

Can you believe Niffenegger has never seen the film of The Time Travelers Wife??? She doesn’t want to spoil the idea she has of it. “In my head that movie’s glorious. Sometime when I’m ninety and ready to die I’ll watch it.”


5 thoughts on “Audrey Niffenegger – Edinburgh Book Festival 2011

    • The book’s brilliant but I always find it hard to read a novel once I’ve already seen the film adaptation. It’s too much of a time commitment given that you already know what the ending is.

  1. I loved TTW – wrote a parody of it on my blog – I loved it that much I felt I could write back to it.

    It’s very refreshing to read about a down to earth author.

    The film – for all the great actors – does not light a candle to the book. Don’t watch it, Audrey – live long and prosper 🙂

    • I agree that the book was much better than the film. I just can’t imagine how Audrey Niffenegger has been able to resist the curiosity to watch it. I’ll have a look for your TTW parody. I’m intrigued!

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